by Mark

Nyiha Scriptures: “Now I know how my ancestors talked about God”

August 15, 2013 in Wycliffe, Mark, Africa, Bible translation, Church, Front, Language, Mission, Swahili, Tanzania by Mark

Back in May I was privileged to spend a few days with the Nyiha language community in Mbozi District of Tanzania’s Mbeya Region. The Nyiha were the first community that I was involved in surveying in August and September 2004, and since then they have worked with experts from around the world to translate the books of Ruth, Jonah, Mark, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus and Revelation into their language.

The purpose of my recent visit was to see what impact these translated Scriptures are having among the community, and to see what lessons could be learned from the Nyiha that could be applied to translation projects in other communities throughout Tanzania. Read the rest of this entry →

by Mark

“Jesus should have been arrested for destroying their business!”

February 16, 2013 in Wycliffe, Mark, Africa, Bible translation, Church, Front, Mission, Swahili, Tanzania by Mark

Our team leader, Richard, and I were driving around Sumbawanga town this afternoon, trying to meet up with regional bishops and church leaders to update them on the progress of writing down the Bende and Pimbwe languages in preparation for Bible translation to start. Arriving at the house of the FPCT (Free Pentecostal Church in Tanzania) Pastor, we were told that he was at a meeting of Sumbawanga church leaders at the EAGT (Evangelical Assemblies of God in Tanzania) church.

Sure enough, when we arrived at the large EAGT church we found not just this pastor, but about 20 leaders from churches across the town. We were grateful for the opportunity to update these pastors on the work that our team has been conducting with the Bende and Pimbwe communities over the past few months, and our hope of seeing Bible translation started soon.

After giving this update, Richard asked the pastors if they had any questions. Read the rest of this entry →

by Mark

Kujifunza Kiswahili – Learning Swahili

February 14, 2012 in Life, Mark, Africa, Front, Language, Swahili, Tanzania by Mark

One of the most crucial parts of our adapting to living in Tanzania is being able to speak the national language – Swahili – to a reasonable level. Having spent 3 years in Tanzania before I am able to speak Swahili fairly well (I’m happy to report I haven’t forgotten too much…!), but Laura has only ever visited East Africa so has never had the chance to learn much Swahili.

In order to help her learn we are spending a few weeks at a Swahili language school along with some of our colleagues, near the town of Iringa. We are into our second week here, and Laura is already making very good progress, picking up the fundamental parts of Swahili grammar and learning quite a bit of vocabulary that will enable her to speak and listen to people. Read the rest of this entry →

by Mark

Google Translate: Swahili… bado kidogo

August 27, 2009 in Mark, Africa, Language, Swahili by Mark

In the last couple of days Google has added Swahili to the list of languages supported by its Translate service. On one hand I’m very happy to see this addition as I think it has the potential to be a big step forward for development in east Africa. However, from first impressions the service still has a long way to go.

One of the main problems for Google is that Swahili is an agglutinative language – meaning that it puts morphemes (grammatical parts of words) together to form longer words. So it can be difficult for a machine to know where the morphemes (parts of the word carrying meaning) begin and end.

Here are some very simple examples that I tried putting into Google:

Swahili Morphemes English Google Translate
kupika ku-pika to cook cooking
ninapika ni-na-pika I am cooking I cooked
nilipika ni-li-pika I cooked I cooked
nitapika ni-ta-pika I will cook I cooked
sijapika si-ja-pika I have not cooked I cooked
apike a-pik-e let him cook apike
umepika u-me-pika you have cooked has cooked
tutapika tu-ta-pika we will cook we cooked
watakapopika wa-taka-po-pika when they will cook will kakopika
mlipokuwa mnapika m-li-po-kuwa m-na-pika when you (pl) were cooking as they were cooked
ikipikwa nasi i-ki-pik(w)a na-si if it is cooked by us it be boiled us
bado kidogo bado ki-dogo not quite yet still little

To be fair, from what I’ve seen the translations of single words isn’t bad at all. Where it falls down is in the grammar – translating Swahili past, present, future and negative-perfect tenses all to English past!

Going the other way, here a few English examples I tried:

English Swahili Google Translate English back-translation
many people watu wengi watu wengi many people
many trees miti mingi miti mingi many trees
many elephants tembo wengi wengi tembo many elephants [wrong word order]
many cars magari mengi wengi magari many cars [wrong word order and agreement]
I am cooking ninapika I am kupikia “I am” to cook with
I cooked nilipika mimi kupikwa I to be cooked
To be fair, from what I’ve seen the translations of single words isn’t bad at all. Kwa kweli, kutokana na yale ambayo nimeyaona, utafsiri wa maneno ya pekee siyo mbaya Kuwa na haki, kutokana na yale I’ve amemwona zote maneno ya wimbo sio mbaya wakati wote. In truth, coming from what “I’ve” he has seen all [wrong agreement and word order] words of song not bad all the time

At this point it looks to be a decent dictionary (although with nothing like the depth of the excellent Kamusi Project), and actually does ok with set phrases. However once you get past the set phrases that it knows it seems unable to understand the relatively simple grammar and come up with a meaningful translation.

This is obviously a work in progress, as the “Contribute a better translation” option shows. It would be interesting to know whether Google takes these user contributed translations and tries to work out how the grammars and structures of the languages compare, or whether it simply remembers the set translation in case anyone enters the exact same phrase again. The first would be fascinating to investigate, whereas I fear the second would be like trying to empty the ocean with a teaspoon.

by Mark

Tanzanian Pastor faces 6 months in prison after refusing to swear on Bible

February 7, 2009 in Mark, Africa, Church, Swahili, Tanzania by Mark

I’d always wondered how Jesus’ instructions to his followers not to swear on any thing, but to let their “yes be yes, and no be no” applied to swearing on the Bible in court. So I was fascinated to hear this tale of a Tanzanian pastor. It’s told by Kenneth Mwazembe, and is in Swahili, so the quoted text below is my translation:

Pastor of the EAGT [Evangelical Assemblies of God in Tanzania – a large Pentecostal denomination] church on Ichenjezya street in the town of Vwawa, Mbozi District of Mbeya Region, Simon Kitwike (48), yesterday found himself with a 6 month jail sentence for contempt of court after refusing to swear the witness oath because of his religious faith.

The Pastor who had had his house broken into at the end of last year and had some things stolen, arrived at Mbozi District court to give his witness but refused to swear, claiming that it would be wrong.

The District Judge Kajanja Nyasige commanded him to read the section of the Bible which tells him not to swear in court, so the Pastor opened the Bible and read Matthew 5:35, which is where his view comes from.

… Judge Nyasige continued to be patient with the Pastor in order that he have the chance to change his stance, by commanding him to read from the Bible again – from the letter of Paul to the Romans 13:1-5. The witness read this section in front of the court, but when he was asked if he had changed his stance, he replied that he was unable to change his stance from this verse, and insisted that his position was still the same.

Judge Nyasige was compelled to read him the judgement that he was guilty of contempt of court and so was sentenced to go to jail for 6 months, and also that he would be expected to give his testimony in the original case on March 2nd this year. read more

What would you have done were you the judge? The judge was quite right in saying that Paul tells the church in Romans 13:1-5 that they should submit to the government and those in authority, but what happens when the law of the country directly contradicts an instruction of Jesus?

It’s an interesting dilemma that could equally have happened in the UK (and maybe has done in the past?) and highlights the irony of laws that require witnesses to swear on a book which instructs people not to swear on anything but simply let their yes be yes and their no be no.